Influential Influenza (March 4, 2012)



Amongst all the talk of suddenly rising gas prices, the latest PR flameout from Rush Limbaugh and the ongoing farce otherwise known as the Republican Presidential primaries, there is a smaller, more personal issue garnering far less media attention – the last gasps (an appropriately selected noun) of the flu season.
Back in late 2009 I suffered an attack of the good old Swine Flu. Remember those heady times? I heard each case was somewhat individual but mine was marked by a sustained high fever that was positively impervious to medication or cool water, disordered thinking (more than usual anyway) and the kind of body pains and headaches formerly associated with medieval torture devices. I have never experienced anything like it and may I never again.

The flu that brought me to my knees late last week/early this week did not burn the brain but it did produce coughing fits violent enough to trigger vomiting – among other lovely features. It was also the first time since undergoing surgery last summer that I needed to rely on the kindness and goodwill of another for my survival. Traditionally, these are not circumstances under which I thrive. After a lifetime spent relying on little more than street smarts and the capacity for hard work, I do not take kindly to my body’s periodic rebellion. The notion of having to depend on someone other than myself tends to make me sweaty, depressed and uncomfortable. There are many family ecosystems in which humans cooperate for the benefit of the species – I just wasn’t born into them. I accepted that and adapted. It’s what we’re supposed to do right?

Another situation I typically find untenable is one in which another pays the price for my own misfortune. This also occurred this week when I passed the debilitating late season flu onto my new boyfriend, a lovely man who nursed me for three days without complaint or regard for his own immune system. How could I explain my crabbiness and withdrawal from this caring person? I was frustrated and humiliated by my own weakness, then ashamed of my inability to protect him from suffering the same fate. How do you tell someone rational that you are angry at yourself for indulging in his well-intentioned TLC? That you are frustrated by your own humanity, which you believed you were above. Why is that that I am simultaneously at my most humble, yet stubbornly arrogant when under the weather?

I believe almost any situation contains a learning experience, probably the only paradigm which has kept my mind from snapping at the absurd volume of interpersonal failure experienced. What I’m trying to learn here is that the sharing of burdens, of seamlessly taking your turn as the caregiver and caregivee is the way a relationship dynamic is supposed to work. It’s not a recourse to tallying debts and favors. That’s the world I am used to. “Becky, you owe me a squelching of your personhood/the perpetuation of a lie/all the energy you have, because remember when I did X for you?”

There’s no scoreboard in my new relationship and I do not need to rebel against affectionate cooperation. There are no accounts to settle once I’m back on my feet. Part one is identifying the knee-jerk dysfunction I brought to the table this week. Part two is figuring out how to keep the flu, and my partner’s compassionate response to it, from triggering an pointless identity crisis.


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